Where should you live? A guide to off-campus housing

It's that time of year again. The rental ads are endless and the showing frenzy is in full swing. But take a breath, it'll be alright. Here is our guide to help you navigate the vibrant but overwhelming Madison housing market. 

Neighborhoods

Bassett District

Once you pass “West Wash” you will enter the historic Bassett District, where you will find quaint tree-lined streets and spacious old flats. Although the neighborhood has seen some new developments arise in the last few years from young professionals moving in, you’ll still find some affordable gems down Doty, Wilson and Bassett streets. It’ll be quieter than the Mifflin neighborhood, with an eclectic mix of students and workers, but the thing residents seem to have in common is that they care about their neighborhood. The Bassett District is an easy bike or bus ride to campus. It’s close to Maharani Indian restaurant, Barriques, and a short walk to Capitol Square, not to mention Lake Monona. District 4. 

Notable companies: Keller Real Estate. Patrick Properties, Mullins Apartments, Ellickson Properties,  Madison Property Management, Greenbush Properties. 

Camp Randall

The Camp Randall neighborhood situated just past the stadium, is a bit more relaxed than neighborhoods to the east. You’ll find whole houses to rent with oodles of friends at prices a bit more affordable than newer properties closer to campus. Still expect to pay a bit more than similar units by the Capitol. For students who spend their days at the UW Hospital or the engineering campuus, this neighborhood is the most convenient. While it’s quiter in the sense that it feels a bit more rural than neighborhoods closer to downtown, students know how to have fun. Lathrop Avenue is somewhat the “Mifflin” of the west side of campus, especially during fall football season, with parties around the clock. This neighborhood is ideal if you want the fun without the street noise of Johnson Street. You’re not close to much but who cares when you have a real lawn. District 5. 

Notable companies: Steve Brown Apartments, Tallard Apartments, SRM Properties, Madison Property Management.

Campus high rises

This is the first year this category exists, because it seems half the buildings in this category are completely new. These high rises, including Grand Central, X01, Vantage Point, Humbucker, Park Terrace West and the soon-to-be-new Varsity Quarters, are breaking the convenience barriers. In one of these properties, you can quite literally roll out of bed and make it to class five minutes later.  Although what you gain in convenience you sacrifice in neighborhood, or lack of it, rather. But if you’re okay falling asleep looking at the Chemistry building, then check these out. Be willing to pay a lot for rent, especially for the newer properties. Sharing rooms will be cheaper, but they will add a fee to your lease. But the apartments will come furnished, include utilities and wireless and have every amenity you could dream.  District 8. 

Notable companies: Madison Property Management, Varsity Quarters. 

Greenbush

The Greenbush neighborhood houses a mix of students and families. As a result, the area makes for quieter living, though gamedays transform Regent into a sea of drunken Badger pride, for better or worse. Outsiders say Greenbush is a hike from some of Madison’s more popular downtown attractions. While that may be true, there’s more to Greenbush than doughnuts and dive bars. When it comes to convenience, you’re also close to Indie Coffee, McDonald’s, a handful of pizza joints and a smattering of restaurants. The neighborhood is also generally more affordable than living closer to campus. Bus accessibility eases commutes to class and around town. Places like Fraboni’s Deli and Greenbush Bar nod to the neighborhood’s past as the home of Italian immigrants.  District 13. 

Notable companies: Forward Management, Tallard Apartments, Madison Property Management, Patrick Properties, SRM Properties. 

James Madison

Although this neighborhood is not as undergraduate-dominated as it once was a decade ago, it is an affordable-housing gold mine for those willing to make the trek. Mostly made up of flats, there is a lot to choose from. The Pinkus McBride Market serves as a local convenience, while a business district on East Johnson, boasting the Caribou Tavern, Sophia’s Bakery & Cafe, forequarter and Johnson Public House, is just a short walk away, not to mention James Madison Park, from which the neighborhood gets its name. A 10 minute bike ride to campus.  District 2.

Notable companies: JSM Properties, Oakland Property Services, Lofgren Properties, Fisher Apartments, SRM Properties. 

Langdon

It’s a perfect location if you are part of Greek life, but still convenient otherwise. A very highly populated student area, Langdon will please you if you are fine with general weekend rowdiness. While it’s known for fraternity row, Langdon offers some eclectic housing options, from old mansions to new towers. You’ll find cozy efficiencies to entire houses. You’re just steps from lower State Street. And there’s nothing quite like a Lake Mendota sunset from your private dock, right? Expect to pay more in the Langdon neighborhood than for similar housing further east. If your heart is set on Langdon but you want to save money, look at older properties. Districts 8 and 2. 

 Notable companies: CHT Apartments, J. Michael Real Estate, Patrick Properties, Lake Town Apartments, Hovde Properties, Palisade Property, Wisconsin Management Company,  Surf & Surfside Apartments.

Mansion Hill

If you would like to live on a picturesque street in a house that could very well be older than the state of Wisconsin, consider Mansion Hill. While it might be a brisk seven minute bike ride to campus land, it’s a seven second stroll to everything else you would possibly want to fill your life with—right by Capitol Square and upper State Street. Mansion Hill, once home to Madison’s old aristocrats and now to a mix of students, young professionals and dedicated home-owners, is designated as a historic district. Because of that protection it is largely as it was a hundred years ago. Because Mansion Hill is a bit further from campus proper, your rent money will go further than neighborhoods to its west. Perfect for the softer-spoken who want the city at their fingertips. District 2. 

Notable companies: Korotev Group, CMI Management, JSM Properties, Docken Management, Lofgren Properties, CHT Apartments. 

Mifflin

Living on a street like Mifflin is what some students say is college is all about. The houses might be a tad run down, and you might hear house parties on both sides of you on weekends, but it might be just for you if you’ve always wanted to share a house with five of your friends and you like being surrounded by undergrads all around. Live here if you’re feeling social. (Some of the porches can probably fit upwards of 20 people.) And, there’s that whole block party thing. Mifflin and its surrounding streets tend to be affordable, but its close proximity to campus means your backyard might be a parking lot and your money will not go as far as it would in Mansion Hill or the Bassett District. If your heart is set on the neighborhood, but you don’t need to live on Mifflin itself, check out Dayton, Bassett and Bedford streets for similar vibes. District 4.

Notable companies: Oakland Property Services, Madison Development Corporation, Madison Campus Rentals.   

Sophomore Slums

A handful of blocks enclosed by Dayton, Park, Mills and Spring streets, lovingly called “the Sophomore Slums” is where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck for one of the most convenient campus locations. While the apartments are popular among fresh-out-of-the-dorms sophomores, as a good first step past residence hall life, these are far from “slummy.” The nicely updated properties are just around 25 years old and their designs, with shared courtyards and tree-lined streets, foster a “neighborhoody” atmosphere. You’ll get the amenities you need but often without extra fees for sharing a room, making it more affordable than the high rise life. District 8.

Notable companies: JSM Properties, Rouse Management, Smith Management, Forward Management.   

State Street

If you love the energy and convenience of city life then live in Madison’s playground. When you live on State Street you will ask yourself  “what aren’t I close to?”—Answer? Nothing. If you’re looking to live in a smaller group or by yourself, there’s a decent variety of options on State. You’re paying for location so, especially closer to campus, expect to shell out some cash for not many square feet. But living above Mia Za’s and the cupcake store is well-worth it, right? While some properties are advertised online, many owners rely on posted signs. So if you’re interested, go for a walk. District 4. 

Notable companies: JSM Properties, Boardwalk Investments, Hawthorne Apartments,  Towers on State. 

University/ Gorham high rises

These high rises, including Equinox, 420 West, Palisades, Aberdeen, La Ciel, La Ville, Embassy and Aberdeen, deserve their own category. A popular choice for students just out of the dorms who want to be close by, these buildings create somewhat of a dormy feel, without the house fellow. While some are a bit newer than others, they are all well-updated, come furnished, and most include utilities, internet and cable in rent. They’ll be louder on weekends (try not to live on the floor right below the penthouse,) and your wallet will definitely feel it. It’ll be more affordable to share rooms, but watch out—most landlords here will add an additional fee for sharing. District 4.

Notable companies: Madison Property Management, Orosz Properties, Aberdeen Apartments, Forward Management, Boardwalk Investements. 

Vilas 

Sure, the first time you walk to the Vilas neighborhood from campus, you feel like you might as well go to Edgewood. However, some housing in this area is just steps from Camp Randall. In fact, living in the Vilas neighborhood may be fairly convenient for students who have classes in engineering or on the west side of campus. Generally, the bus can get you to campus and downtown—you might even run into a professor during your morning ride. Pluses include a quieter environment (except on gamedays, when there’s a chance you’ll be able to hear the game from your bedroom), beautiful scenery, easy access to the Henry Vilas Park and Zoo, and a short commute to Monroe Street businesses, like Trader Joe’s, Mickies Dairy Bar and Pizza Brutta. There are some affordable student rentals if you do a little looking. District 13.

Notable companies: J. Michael Real Estate, Tallard Apartments. 

When should you sign? 

By November, you have  already noticed emails and ads saying, “Hurry! Sign soon! Or else!” But when should you make the big commitment? When should you sign a lease nine months before it starts and when shouldn’t you? 

 

• You have a very specific property in mind —> sign first semester, if you’re certain, but come up with a back-up plan in case  another group gets to it first. 

• You are looking for a four or more bedroom unit that is older —> sign first semester because these larger units are harder to come by

• You are looking for a one-to-two-bedroom or efficiency —> no harm in waiting untill spring as there are plenty of these to choose from in most neighborhoods. You will have the most freedom in choices.

• You, as of Nov. 4, 2013, are not sure who you want to live with—> this is a no brainer, wait! Wouldn’t you rather take a few months to really think about it than jump into a contract with someone you’re iffy about? Why risk it?

• You are a first-year student —> if you are pondering living with students you met just three months ago, consider waiting untill spring when you will know them a bit better. Do you think you will still be friends in nine months? It’s hard to say. 

•You want to live very close to campus —> sign first semester. Many students care about   being close, so that means many students will be looking early to assure their spots. Competition breeds competition. 

• You are fine being a little further away —> wait untill spring semester because neighborhoods like Greenbush, Mansion Hill and the Bassett District will still have plenty to choose from. Keller Real Estate, which owns properties in the Bassett District, does not even start showings untill January. 

• You want to live in a high rise but you don’t really care which one —> wait as long as you can. Despite the ads suggesting otherwise, there will likely still be units available in May, especially on the Gorham-University bend. (Last May, Equinox still had around 30 units unsigned for August leases.) In spring, many companies will start lowering rents and offering deals. such as flat screeen tvs and moped give-aways.

•  You want to study abroad the spring semester —> this is a tough one. Due to the immense amounts of students studying abroad in spring, it is often cumbersome to find someone to sublet your spot. Consider living in a cooperative, or a room in university housing perhaps. Ask companies if they have any six-month leases for fall. The later you wait the more flexible companies will be. 

Resources

Apartment-searching

cdliving.com—an agglomeration of most campus and downtown rentals.

cribspot.com and rentcollegepads.com—tools to sift through area rentals interactively with personalized search criteria.

• Campus Area Housing Listing Service—UW-Madison’s off-campus housing resource - campusareahousing.wisc.edu.

•Student Housing Fair— Nov. 12, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Varsity Hall, Union South.

•Many independent landlords advertise solely with signs on their properties. If there is a neighborhood you are interested, take a walk.

Tenant Information

• Tenant Resource Center—a non-profit that offers information about all things renting-related. Walk-in hours are on the third floor of the Student Activity Center on Mondays and Wednesdays 12-6 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays 11-3 p.m. 608-561-3727

tenantresourcecenter.org.

Know your local alder, and use him or her as a resource

District 8-Scott Resnick

District 2 - Ledell Zellers

District 5- Shiva Bidar-Sielaff

District 4- Mike Verveer

District 13- Sue Ellingson

• If you’re considering a unit with heat not included, look up how much money was spent on heat at the property in years past on Madison Gas and Electric’s website, mge.com. 


What to look for on a showing

• Is there any rotting wood, or foundation issues on the outside of the property?

• Are there locks on bedroom doors?

• Is there adequate storage space? 

• Does the unit get natural light?  Which rooms?

• Does every bedroom have a window? 

• Where do tenants put trash and recycling? Is there parking and laundry? 

•What appliances are included? Furniture?

• Does the property manager have an office? How will you go about paying rent and getting in touch with questions?

• How many units are in the property? Are there any shared spaces?

• Are there smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in every room?

• Is there any evidence of “awkard unit chopping?” (Would you have to walk out your front door to get to your bathroom?)

 
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